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Disney Movie And TV Flops That Are Actually Worth Watching

With movie theater attendance on the decline, it's never been easier for a big budget movie to bomb. At one stage, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed fire-proof in terms of takings, but the box office failure of 2023's "The Marvels" has proven that no franchise is safe. While we can debate the reasons why these sorts of flops happen, the fact of the matter is that not every film or television series is going to be successful, no matter the hype or the names attached. Marvel's downturn in fortunes will no doubt be a worry for Disney, though the House of Mouse is no stranger to a high profile dud. Some films and shows are just destined to fail — even if, like the projects we're about to discuss, they're actually good.

While some of these entries didn't live up to the hype the first time around, many of them have found success on home video, streaming, or even generated their own cult followings. They may not be Oscar worthy, but these Disney flops definitely deserve to be given a genuine second chance. Maybe if execs at the famous studio see that there's renewed interest in some of these perceived failures, they will be reminded that box office runs aren't necessarily the be-all and end-all. The last thing movie-goers want is for studios to stop taking chances, which is why it's important that we give underrated gems like these some much deserved love.

Treasure Planet (2002)

"Treasure Planet" is a science fiction-infused adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic "Treasure Island," with Disney tweaking the pirate-themed material for a new audience. It came out right before the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie hit theaters, but, while the latter made a huge splash, "Treasure Planet" sank big time. With a massive budget of $140 million, Disney poured a lot into this swashbuckling epic. CGI was blended with traditional animation in order to create a unique look, but movie-goers weren't biting: The film made less than $110 million worldwide, and the initial plans for a sequel were canceled.

However, even though "Treasure Planet" wasn't a box office success, the film itself is actually pretty incredible. Not only did Disney's efforts pay off on the screen, but the exciting characters and complex world building make this one of the most unique projects the House of Mouse has ever put together. It goes without saying that this is the most original "Treasure Island" adaptation out there. It's the friendship between Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and John Silver (Brian Murray) that really solidifies this picture, but there's a lot more to "Treasure Planet" than meets the eye. If you've never seen it, there's never been a better time to check it out.

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Back when 3D animation was still being finetuned, we got films like "Ice Age" and "Robots." Those are pretty well-known, but a film you may have forgotten all about is 2007's "Meet the Robinsons." This $150 million adventure generated less than $170 million at the box-office, which wasn't exactly the return on investment that Disney was hoping for. "Meet the Robinsons" was meant to help usher the House of Mouse into the new digital age, but it went the way of so many other Disney sci-fi flicks, failing big time. But, as we've established, just because something's a financial failure doesn't mean it's not worthy of your attention.

The film is centered around a 12-year-old inventor called Lewis, an orphan who gets whisked off into the year 2037 by a time traveling boy named Wilbur. "Meet the Robinsons" is heartfelt, charming, and, above all, an absolute blast, which really makes us wonder why it flopped in the first place. Maybe the fact that the animation of the day wasn't quite able to create convincing human characters had something to do with it, or maybe people just didn't quite get the concept. Its failure is even harder to understand when you consider the fact that many top critics were singing its praises. "It's a lot of fun," said Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper, while Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called it "A delightful, quirk-filled riff on 'Back to the Future.'"

John Carter (2012)

Created by pulp novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs in the early 1900s, the fantastical world of Barsoom has captivated the hearts and minds of countless young readers, yet it took a full century for a big screen adaptation to appear. Disney finally answered the call in 2012 with "John Carter," turning Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" into a live-action sci-fi epic. The film cost the House of Mouse a whopping $307 million to put together, but a poor marketing campaign tore the whole thing apart. With a box office return of $284 million, the studio lost a ton of money on this ambitious project. It even led to Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross resigning. But is "John Carter" really that bad? Well, no. In fact, it's actually pretty good.

The film itself, which stars Taylor Kitsch in the title role, is frankly a lot of fun. It manages to adapt the source material fairly well, even with a few minor changes. Sure, there are a couple of dull moments in there, but it doesn't change the fact that Kitsch was well cast in the role of John Carter and he does a great job all things considered. Whether you're familiar with Burroughs' original novels or not, "John Carter" is an adventure that is well worth revisiting today. It contains some fantastic world building, has a distinctive style, and features a unique combination of Western and sci-fi aesthetics. "John Carter" deserved to get a sequel, but the money involved meant that was never going to happen.

Tron: Uprising (2012-2013)

Disney has also suffered a few TV flops in recent years. Among these is "Tron: Uprising," an animated series set between the events of 1982's "Tron" and 2010's "Tron: Legacy." The show actually went into production before "Tron: Legacy" hit theaters, but, because it took so long to make, it didn't come out until after the film had dropped in cinemas. Unfortunately, "Tron: Legacy" wasn't the huge hit that Disney hoped for, leaving questions marks over the future of the franchise.

It wasn't surprising when a planned second season of "Tron: Uprising" was abandoned, but it was a real shame, because the first season is actually very good. Bruce Boxleitner returns to voice Tron, but this time in a mentorship capacity. He shapes a young program named Beck (Elijah Wood) into a new Tron so they can battle Clu's dark forces. The show is a blast, and, despite airing on Disney XD, it actually tackles some mature themes. And, as well as being a gripping story, it's a real feast for the eyes, boasting a unique animation style. Disney execs clearly weren't sold, but fans loved it — "Tron: Uprising" Season 1 has a 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tomorrowland (2015)

The George Clooney-led "Tomorrowland" actually grossed more than its $190 million budget, but the film was still considered a commercial failure: It's estimated that this picture lost anywhere between $120-150 million when all was said and done. The Brad Bird-directed sci-fi flick didn't go down well with critics or audiences, receiving lukewarm reviews across the board. "For whatever reason, it didn't hit the way we wanted it to hit," Bird told The Wrap, lamenting the fact that original movies often face an uphill battle compared to reboots and franchise installments. But what went wrong, exactly?

The film's optimistic look toward the future contrasts deeply with our modern thoughts on climate change, artificial intelligence, and political divisions — but that was kind of the point. To build a better tomorrow, we also need to hope for one. It seems like we need that nowadays more than ever. While "Tomorrowland" is not a perfect movie (it can be a bit too heavy-handed for its own good at times), the film's charismatic cast, beautiful cinematography, and hopeful message propels it forward even as it fumbles. More than anything, this movie might make you long to be a kid again. We could all use a dose of youthful optimism every now and then.

Dave the Barbarian (2004-2005)

The animated comedy "Dave the Barbarian" never seemed to be off the Disney Channel/Toon Disney in the mid-2000s, but then it vanished. Set during the Middle Ages, it follows the adventures of the titular character and his two siblings. Their parents, Throktar and Glimia, are the King and Queen of the kingdom of Udrogoth, but they're too busy fighting evil elsewhere to run the place. Dave is left in charge of protecting the realm in a physical sense, while his older sister Candy is left to call the shots, even though she would rather be out shopping than making important decisions. The bravest of the bunch is Dave's younger sister Fang. 

This hilarious show had everything from casual fourth wall breaks to sinister talking pigs. It took the general "Conan the Barbarian" concept and flipped it on its head, making Dave a cowardly character. From the get-go, "Dave the Barbarian" didn't have the biggest budget to work with, but the writers always found clever ways to work around their limitations. It's hard to tell exactly what killed "Dave the Barbarian," but there are those who are still mourning its loss two decades later. "It sucks that this show only ran for one season, it's an underrated gem," X user @HipHopandGames said on the show's 20th anniversary in 2024.

Onward (2020)

Just before Hollywood and pretty much the entire world shut down in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney and Pixar released "Onward" to theaters. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing two elf brothers on a quest to bring their father (temporarily) back to life, it seemed like this movie was destined to be a success. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond the film's control prevented it from gaining much traction and it ended up making $142 million. That's a lot of money, but nowhere near what the film reportedly cost. "Pixar films typically cost $175 million to $200 million to make, a hefty fee that doesn't account for global marketing," said Variety.

While those figures aren't surprising given the circumstances, it's a shame considering how good this movie actually is. Thankfully, when "Onward" was released on Disney+ and VOD, it began to receive the recognition it deserved. Pratt and Holland are an inspired pair here, and the unique blend of modern, real-world aesthetics with the fantasy genre makes "Onward" stand out as a noteworthy addition to Pixar's resume. Some commentators called it "Frozen" for boys, with Mommy Talk Show dubbing the film "Brozen." It's certainly as fun as "Frozen," and it has an ending that will bring you to tears. If you've been sleeping on this one, we recommend adding "Onward" to your watchlist immediately.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

One of Disney's most notorious flops, "The Black Cauldron" was the most expensive animated project that the House of Mouse had ever put together at the time of its release, partially because it was the first to use computer-generated imagery. It's based on Lloyd Alexander's novel of the same name, which is part of his "The Chronicles of Prydain" series. The film cost a reported $44 million to make, and while that might not seem like a lot of money for a movie these days, that was no small chunk of change in 1985. To make matters worse, it only pulled in about $21 million during its theatrical run, making it a resounding failure.

The main issue with "The Black Cauldron" is that it was just too dark for Disney, and it could have been even darker: In the years since it came out, some legitimately disturbing deleted scenes have been unearthed, including such horrors as henchmen having their skin melted in graphic fashion. Even with this kind of stuff removed, it still skews dark for the Mouse House, but this is partly why "The Black Cauldron" became a cult classic after being released on home video. This fantasy epic boasts a terrifying villain in the Horned King and a generally somber atmosphere, setting it apart from other animated Disney films. It may have been a flop at the time, but "The Black Cauldron" rightfully lives on in the hearts and minds of dark fantasy aficionados everywhere.

Lightyear (2022)

Disney and Pixar's "Toy Story" spin-off "Lightyear" was meant to evoke the '90s sci-fi blockbusters of yesteryear, which a young Andy from "Toy Story" would have watched in theaters growing up. Sadly, it ended up crashing and burning: "Lightyear" bombed hard at the box office, making just $226 million against a $200 million budget. Fans just weren't interested in giving up their hard-earned cash to see it. Perhaps some were mad that Tim Allen wasn't returning as Buzz Lightyear, or maybe some were disappointed that the film didn't follow the already-established "Buzz Lightyear of Star-Command" animated series that many of us grew up with.

According to Pixar's Chief Creative Office Pete Docter, the lack of other recognizable "Toy Story" characters was to blame. "We've done a lot of soul-searching about that because we all love the movie," he told The Wrap. "We love the characters and the premise. I think probably what we've ended on in terms of what went wrong is that we asked too much of the audience. When they hear Buzz, they're like, great, where's Mr. Potato Head and Woody and Rex? And then we drop them into this science fiction film that they're like, 'What?'" If you go into this film not expecting it to be another "Toy Story" film and simply take it for what it is, you'll have a blast.

Fillmore! (2002-2004)

Another Disney animated series that's well worth a second look, "Fillmore!" is a hybrid of a '70s cop show and a middle school drama. Created by future "The Walking Dead" showrunner Scott M. Gimple, "Fillmore!" originally ran on ABC before moving to Toon Disney. Gimple and others believe the show was canceled before its time, and we agree wholeheartedly. In many ways, it was simply too mature for its younger audience (trying to be a '70s cop drama will do that), but not mature enough for those who grew up with shows like "Kojak" and "The Rockford Files."

Time has actually been kind to "Fillmore!" Watching it back now, it seems like a crime that it only got 26 episodes. From its memorable opening that primes you for a new adventure, to the hilarious cop show caricatures that make up each of the main characters, "Fillmore!" shouldn't work, yet it absolutely does. On paper, it's a ridiculous idea, but that's exactly what makes it special. Watching these middle schoolers act as if they're in a hard-boiled crime drama is both hilarious and oddly engaging. You can't help but root for the gang, hoping that they'll catch the latest vandal or cheater in their midst.

Jungle Cruise (2021)

It's perhaps harsh to consider the action adventure throwback "Jungle Cruise" a flop considering that it hit streaming at the same time as it came out in theaters. Even the Hollywood trades were unsure, with Variety saying, "Is 'Jungle Cruise' a box office hit? During COVID, it's hard to know." However, when all was said and done, the figures suggested that the film was a financial failure: The Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt-led flick made $220 million worldwide from a reported budget of $200 million. No matter which angle you take, that's not a good return for a big budget blockbuster.

The jury will probably always be out on this in terms of measuring success, but one thing we know for sure is that "Jungle Cruise" is an entertaining film that's definitely worth your time. Johnson and Blunt dovetail brilliantly as Frank (a cynical steamboat owner with an amazing secret) and Lily (an adventurous botanist trying to make her mark in a male-dominated field). If you're a fan of the "Indiana Jones" series and Brendon Fraser's "The Mummy" films, this will be right up your street. Seeing as we're getting a "Jungle Cruise" sequel, it seems as though Disney execs were happy with the first outing. Hopefully, the follow-up can capture the same adventurous spirit as the first film.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (2021-2022)

Measuring success in the age of streaming is tricky, because there's no way of knowing how many people have watched a film or series unless execs decide to reveal this information. Sometimes, we don't realize that a project has failed until the ax falls, and in the case of the Disney+ show "The Mysterious Benedict Society," that was a real tragedy. Although the series showed enough promise initially to warrant a second season, it was canceled by Disney only two months after Season 2 premiered. Adding insult to injury for fans of the series, it was removed from Disney+ soon after.

Co-creator Phil Hay was proud of the show (he had "no regrets" about it, he said on X), and he had every right to be, because "The Mysterious Benedict Society" is well made and very engaging. Based on the books by Trenton Lee Stewart, it's about four kids who are recruited by the titular Mr. Benedict to stop an evil-doer named Dr. L.D. Curtain, who has mastered a way of infiltrating the subconscious. The performances of Tony Hale (in a dual role) and Kristen Schaal alone make this show worthy of your time. "The Mysterious Benedict Society" is a smart, strange, and intellectually satisfying series aimed at kids, though there's more than enough here for grown-ups to enjoy.